Sunday, December 18, 2011
Zen and the Art of Kava Grinding
I have arrived in my village in the northwest of the island of Malekula. Above are pictures of my new house and the beach nearby. The community here is divided between Seventh Day Adventists and Presbyterians. In terms of religion, this is as diverse as Vanuatu usually becomes. When I tell people about my Buddhist practice, they respond by saying they have never heard of Buddhism. I tried to explain Buddhist concepts such as reincarnation, impermanence, and mindful living in Bislama, and found that people were interested, but did not fully grasp these ideas. However, I do feel more accepted for my beliefs than I expected to be by conservative Christians, such as Seventh Day Adventists. They ask me to say grace before eating and do not object to my chanting the Buddhist prayer Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambudhassa (“Homage to the Blessed One, the Noble One, the Perfectly Enlightened One”) rather than the Christian prayers they are accustomed to. I also made Turkish coffee over an open fire using ground coffee from Tanna, an island in the south of Vanuatu, which they enjoyed. I expressed interest in visiting a nakamal to my family, who told me their religion forbade kava consumption and that, if I wanted kava, I must come to the Presbyterian area, where the religion is less restrictive. Two days ago, I did so. It turned out to be a more involved process that I anticipated. I was told to wait and smoke some strong local tobacco while I waited for the owner of the nakamal. When he arrived, he took me on the back of his truck to a man who sold pieces of the kava plant that resembled potato slices. For one US dollar/100 vatu, I purchased a large bag of kava pieces. After we drove back to the nakamal, I was shown how to grind kava. After grinding the kava into dried gray nuggets, we dissolved them a bowl of water. Using a calico cloth as a strainer, we squeezed the newly concocted kava into another, larger bowl. I was then told to drink all of it. I expressed that I did not want to drink that much kava, but they did not seem to understand the concept of only wanting a small amount of kava. In Vanuatu, kava is all or nothing. Either you do not drink it or you drink it in excess. The culture allows no middle ground. After drinking the entire bowl, I walked home unharmed, and fell asleep almost immediately.